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Vietnam memories: Documentary focuses on 10 New Mexicans’ experiences in war

Filmmakers are forced to be patient.

And in Michael Kamins’ case, being patient paid off.

Kamins is the executive producer of the coming documentary “New Mexico and the Vietnam War: 10 Portraits.” It airs at 6 p.m. Sunday, May 6.

Through a grass-roots effort – and just under two years – Kamins was able to find 10 New Mexicans who were involved in the Vietnam War.

He wanted to tell their stories – not only of the war – but their experiences living through it.

He caught up with Jake Lopez, Nu Nguyen, Michael Naranjo, Hieu Doan, Mary Cohoe, Art DeVargas, Don Loftis, Jane Carson, Tom Baca and Dotty Beatty.

“I wanted to talk to them about the experience,” Kamins says. “That is what is really compelling to me. Immediately, I realized how little I knew about the Vietnam War. I had heard about it in a broader context. I didn’t know the personal context, and that’s what I was interested in telling.”

Kamins began reaching out to veterans’ organizations and talking to people.

“The tone is very different, and it’s about something very personal,” he says. “These people experienced something during a very formative time in their live. What happens when you encounter something like life and death every day. In Vietnam, that possibility existed. The documentary shows the best of humanity and the worst of humanity. I think those two things often go together.”

Kamins also wanted the documentary to have diversity – not only tell a story from a soldier’s point of view.

He found Mary Cohoe, who felt like she needed to be there with her Navajo brothers who were drafted.

Cohoe sold her car and belongings and became a volunteer with the Red Cross in Vietnam.

Kamins also interviews Nu Nguyen, who is Vietnamese and was part of Operation New Life, a humanitarian effort to get Vietnamese resettled in the United States.

“It’s one of the biggest humanitarian efforts of the 20th century,” he says. “Not a lot of people know about this.”

Throughout the documentary, the New Mexicans recount their experiences.

The stories are told in six-minute portions, and Kamins had a difficult time editing down hours of material.

The 10 individuals captured Kamins’ attention.

Yet there is one – Jane Carson – whose story continues to tug on his heartstrings.

Carson was a nurse and took it upon herself to care for the soldiers in a different way.

“To see a life pass from these young men,” she says in the documentary. “It was an honor to hold them, and I wanted to be there for them and let them know that I was there for them and they weren’t dying alone. We just kept on chugging and working, and there are plenty more people to take care of, and they didn’t stop coming.”

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